The Mayor’s Cup New York City Kayak Championship is an elite kayaking race around Manhattan Island. This 26.7 mile marathon race will be North America’s premier paddle sports event and soon to be New York City’s largest water event. The Mayor’s Cup will draw some of the world’s and the regions most accomplished paddlers. This event has elite classes as well as enthusiast classes and all talented paddlers are welcome to participate.

To learn more about the Tune Up Series or the race itself, visit On October 19, Ray hopes that as many as 175 boats will line up to have at the $15,000 in prize money and $20,000 in swag he's secured. Champion Chip GPS trackers will allow fans to follow along on their home computers or on a big screen TV at the finish.

Got speed? The course, a circumnavigation of Manhattan Island, will offer some of the most challenging water in the region. One of the trickiest segments will be Hell’s Gate, combining water from Long Island Sound, the Harlem River and the East River to create standing waves, whirlpools and very confused water. The East River’s currents can move as quickly as 7 knots. The Battery – where water from the Hudson, East River and Buttermilk Channel converge – can produce waters with a 3 to 5 foot chop. If you are a talented paddler with the mettle to finish this serious race than this is an event you won’t want to miss.

2008 marks the second year of Mayor’s Cup – New York City Kayak Championships. Get ready for the ride of your life. We are pleased to announce that there is $15,000 in prize money – $5,000 goes to the Mayor’s Cup winner.



One hour into the 2007 Mayor's Cup race, a 27-mile circumnavigation of Manhattan, five world-class kayakers cruised north at 10 mph under the vast span of the George Washington Bridge. They were out in the middle of the wide, wind-swept river named after that spectacularly lost British explorer, Henry Hudson, who sailed from Amsterdam to New York in 1609 searching for a trade route to Asia. But while Henry sailed straight past Mannahatta—the local Lenape tribe's word for “land of many hills"—all the way to Albany, the lead pack angled east toward the entrance of the Harlem River, edged by a small forest decked out in fall colors at the northern tip of Manhattan.

….three weeks before that inaugural race, Fusco learned he had kidney cancer. “Screw it,”he said, “I have to see this race through. I'll start treatment when I'm done.”

I lagged 50 yards behind, unable to close the gap. I'd started in the last of seven waves sent off in three-minute intervals so I'd been passing slower boats all the way up river—the field of 100 ran the gamut from hardcore endurance junkies to part-time paddlers with full-time jobs and endless enthusiasm for most anything that had to do with a boat. But the distance and the challenging water weeded out the purely recreational paddlers and left me chasing the elite pack of leaders. The muscular mob ahead didn't realize what they were missing by leaving me, a native New Yorker, in their wake. I could have identified the notable landmarks they were blowing by without a second glance: Grant's Tomb; Fort Tyron Park, where British forces decimated General George Washington's troops in the fall of 1776; and, of course, the apartment on Riverside Drive where my Aunt Muriel served me many a matzoth ball.

What these philistines lacked in cultural sophistication they surely made up in paddling prowess. Taking turns pulling up front like cyclists in a pace line, they disappeared under the low, swinging railroad bridge at Spuyten Duyvil.
Now entering its third year, the Mayor's Cup is the brainchild of 41-year-old kayak guide Ray Fusco. The race, also known by its full name, Mayor's Cup New York City Kayak Championships, takes place in October—this year's on the 19th—and is quickly becoming one of the premiere paddling races in North America, if for no other reason than it's inspiring setting around arguably the world's most famous island.

In the winter of 2006, Fusco asked me what it would take to put on a big-time race around Manhattan. “Three rivers around one *!%$* island!”he proclaimed. “It's a classic!”I'd known more than a few people who'd tried to stage such a race only to succumb to the daunting logistics and copious red tape. But 10 months and countless phone calls later, Fusco found a solid sponsor in the New York City Sports Commission, recruited four-time Olympic medalist Greg Barton, and the race was on. Then, just three weeks before that inaugural race, Fusco learned he had kidney cancer. “Screw it,”he said, “I have to see this race through. I'll start treatment when I'm done.”

That year, 43 paddlers started outside the North Cove Marina—an idyllic spot on the lower Hudson dominated by glassy skyscrapers. With no worthy adversary to push him, Barton focused on breaking the course record of 3 hours, 44 minutes set in 2005 by German paddler Dorian Wolters. Eying his GPS like an out-of-towner watching a taxi meter, the two-time gold medalist sliced 24 minutes off the record. Ten days after the race, Fusco had surgery.

Last year, his cancer in remission and his zeal unabated, Fusco upped the purse to $15,000. The number of entrants jumped to 100: surf skis, solo and tandem sea kayaks, and one-man and two-man outriggers all joined the fun. I unloaded my surf ski at the end of Liberty Street at sunrise. New York may be the city that never sleeps, but at 6 a.m. on Saturday morning in the World Financial District, the Big Apple was as still and, with the sun casting its first rays on the Hudson, as beautiful as I'd ever seen it.

Roughly 80 minutes into the 2007 race I turned south on the Harlem River just behind the leaders. I could see the spray arching off their paddles until the narrow river wended its way past cliffs and railroad tracks on the Bronx side and Columbia University's boathouse on the Manhattan side. The placid, eight-mile stretch is lined with industrial plants and the occasional make-shift homeless shelter; both humans and herons fish from the banks. Hugging the shore to get out of the current, I passed a taxi driver snoozing in his cab and, a bit further on, someone practicing the bagpipes.

A few miles past Yankee Stadium, more than two hours into the race, I could still see the leaders approaching Hell's Gate—a narrow tidal strait where the Harlem and East rivers and the Long Island Sound converge at Randall's Island. Early explorers rightly feared this confluence of rocks and colliding tides, which sent hundreds of ships to the bottom. But in 1876 the Army Corps of Engineers blasted away the rocks with the largest man-made explosion to date, and these days, although the water through Hell's Gate can still be squirrelly, the commercial traffic plying the tight channel is far more hazardous. Even the most linear kayaker will feel like a nautical jaywalker, dodging barges, tugs, tankers, ferries, power boats, jet skis, and even sea planes.

Plenty of safety craft monitored our progress, however, (not to mention a press boat calling Cape Town, South Africa with updates to be reported live on and we were never more than a city block from a high-priced cappuccino.

Three hours into the race, I rounded a bend in the river at the Lower East Side near the Jewish ghetto where my great grandmother sold herring from a barrel. I passed beneath the Brooklyn Bridge and the South Street Seaport and finally slipped behind the Staten Island Ferry and headed north up the Hudson. The finish was less than two miles away—but into a headwind, against the current, and along a sea wall which featured a gauntlet of rebounding waves. With the end tantalizingly near, Erik Borgnes, a paddling physician from Wisconsin who'd I'd not seen since the start, passed me on my right. Had Rudy Giuliani zoomed by in a skin-tight lyrca suit I'd have been no less surprised. Erik finished a boat length ahead. We were 13 minutes behind South Africa's Herman Chalupsky, who'd out-sprinted Greg Barton for the $5,000 first prize and broke the course record by six minutes.

Watching the finishers battle along the wall, I was content to gaze out at Lady Liberty lording over Ellis Island where my grandparents arrived at the turn of the century. Rounding Manhattan had linked a string of memories, from watching Mickey Mantle at Yankee Stadium with my Dad to the collapse of the Twin Towers, visible from my street corner two miles away in Brooklyn. With two Mayor's Cups under my belt and another to follow, rounding Manhattan was becoming as much of a tradition as my Aunt Muriel's matzoth balls.